Iron Man is apparently the first of ten comic book adaptations self-financed by Marvel Entertainment, in an effort to actually see more of the ridiculous amounts of money generated by their superhero films. This, along with rumours that we will see increasing amounts of crossovers in their films, suggests a more strategic attack on Hollywood by a whole host of spandex-clad folk. As far as I can tell, the new plan is to make movies the way they make comics – more titles, with more characters and increasingly tangled plots.
Of course, Iron Man is one of the few superheroes not to be clad in spandex. This immediately makes the film look less silly. The suit, and in fact the special effects throughout Iron Man are pretty good. Until the climax of course, which is traditionally when special effects gurus’ dreams exceed their reach.
The first films in franchises are often the hardest to make (and let’s not kid ourselves – Marvel have a franchise in mind). Having to fit both an origin story, some sort of nemesis and closure within two hours is a pretty hard task. Iron Man succeeds with the first part. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is wonderfully introduced. A billionaire engineer and head of a huge weapons manufacturing corporation, he’s basically a bit of a tosser. But a tosser we all like, cos he skips over all the bullshit, cracks jokes, and basically has fun with his station in life. This changes when he finds himself facing the consequences of creating weapons of mass destruction. Of course, the film takes the safe route, making no real assertions about war or the weapons we use to fight them. There are still bad guys and good guys and no grey areas whatsoever. It’s just that now he realises that people actually use these things, and that they kill people.
This spoiled potential aside, the first two thirds of the film are greatly entertaining. The quality starts to slip as we move into the final act. There’s simply no excuse for comic book movies these days; I know I go on about Batman Begins every chance I get, but it really did show that these films could be so much more. More pertinently, Unbreakable already told us the rules, so any time a film complies with those classical elements, it’s bound to disappoint. The last third of the film edges dangerously into Fantastic Four territory – big explosions, overdone CGI, and a complete lack of excitement.
Another problem is that all the creative writing seemed to go into Stark’s character, as the others are little more than sketches. It seems like ages since I’ve seen Gwyneth Paltrow in a film, and she’s charming and eminently likeable here, even if she exists only to round out Stark. Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges are completely wasted in barely sketched caricatures. Director Jon Favreau et. al. have gone halfway to creating a great superhero movie, it’s just such a pity they drop the ball in the final act. All the good action is behind us by the time we reach the rather predictable showdown. If it weren’t for Downey Jr., this may have been a waste of time, but he makes the film feel a little bit more real.
It’s weird to think that Blade and X-Men reignited Marvel’s big screen success, yet every film afterwards has been a watered down, blunted adaptation oh-so-eager to keep the kids entertained, with little regard for older viewers. Iron Man is easily better than the worst of them, but could have been great.Rating: